Top Six Identity Theft Myths
If you’re like many Americans, you’re more anxious than ever about having your identity stolen. According to a 2014 Unisys Security Index, Unisys, a technology and services firm, established that 57% of U.S. citizens rated identity theft as the personal threat that they were most concerned with. Only one fourth of that same group rated physical safety as a concern. Knowing that so many are distressed over identity theft, it’s time to set the record straight on some myths that are floating around out there.
Identity Theft Myth Number One: When your identity is stolen, you will immediately know it.
You may diligently go through your credit card statements line item by line item each month, but that is simply not enough to determine if your identity has been compromised. Experienced thieves will use your information to open new accounts, so looking at your current statements certainly won’t give you that information. Most of these professional criminals also know that many people check their credit at least once a year by accessing a free report from the three major credit bureaus; therefore, they will wait 365 days to use your information and to open new accounts. Some credit cards offer free credit monitoring, so check your credit card benefits or if you’re looking for a new card, consider looking for one with credit monitoring benefits, so you can regularly check your credit at no cost.
Identity Theft Myth Number Two: Identity thieves only victimize strangers.
We have heard a lot of news lately about large public data breaches, but another reality is that many identity thefts are actually performed by people you know: coworkers, friends and even family members. The sharing of an insurance account number, for example, amongst family members can lead to medical identity theft. Parents have stolen their child’s identity to utilize their clean credit record. Seniors have fallen victim to family, friends or hired caregivers who abused their trust. Usernames, passwords and account information must be closely guarded and shared only with people that you know and can solely trust.
Identity Theft Myth Number Three: The majority of identity theft crimes take place online.
Though we again have heard in the news lately of many large wide-spread data breaches online, more than fifty percent of identity thefts are actually stolen offline. Documents with sensitive information should be kept in a secure place in your home, preferably a safe. Once you are done with these documents, they should be destroyed in a cross cut shredder. If you can acquire a lockbox for mail, that is a good plan too. Some criminals actually steal mail from the mailbox to gain identity information. Those same thieves will also go “dumpster diving” to look for identity information. That’s why it’s so important to ensure that your sensitive information is shred.
Identity Theft Myth Number Four: Social networking is secure.
There’s no doubt that social networking has become a norm in our society. It’s a natural way for us to keep in touch with friends and family. Unfortunately it’s also a great way for cyber criminals to learn all sorts of information about you that may be helpful in stealing your identity. Simply discussing your vacation plans and posting your pics while you’re away (which many people do) alerts thieves of your whereabouts. They can often also gain information from your page that may help them answer your “secret” security questions for accounts (e.g. high school you attended, mother’s maiden name, etc.). The answer to this problem is quite simple: Look at the privacy settings on your social network accounts, and choose the highest privacy settings. You don’t have to allow the entire public to see your information.
Identity Theft Myth Number Five: Only adults are affected by identity theft.
Identity theft happens to about 140,000 children annually. It’s easier for criminals to use a child’s identity for a longer time without being detected. Most often the culprit has been a friend, family member or school employee. The child’s information can be used to gain a driver’s license; if the thief is caught committing a crime; to apply for government benefits; to apply for loans or credit cards; or to rent a place. To avoid identity theft of your child, the three major credit bureaus have a process for parents to check on their child’s credit. The next time you request your credit report, check into the process for looking at your child’s credit.
Identity Theft Myth Number Six: Debit cards are safer to use than credit cards.
You know that your debit card is linked directly to your bank account. If it gets stolen, the cash in your account that gets drained is gone until the issue is resolved with the bank. With a credit card, however, the identity thief is stealing money from the bank technically. You will still have access to the money in your bank accounts and the bills you have on auto-draft with your bank will still clear.
Keep these myths in mind and your information secure. Be diligent in preventing identity theft for yourself and your loved ones. If you do fall victim to an identity thief, one of the most important things you can do is to act quickly. The government website consumer.gov provides citizens with information on identity theft reporting. Take back your identity!*
*This article provides broad and general guidelines and does not constitute professional or legal advice. You should not use this article as a substitute for your own judgment, and you should consult professional advisers before making any advertising, tax, legal, financial planning or investment decisions.